In the manufacturing industry, while capital expenditure and investment decrease in times of recession, the requirement for improved processes and increased efficiency continues. Here Phil Gillard general manager of  industrial automation specialist SolutionsPT explains how his company helps its Irish customers, many in the pharmaceutical sector, achieve more with less during periods of low capital investment 

SolutionsPT’s work in Ireland is focused on markets that are either already highly automated, as in the pharmaceutical sector, or becoming automated as a result of their strategic importance to the economy, as in the food processing sector.

At present, the global economic situation means capital expenditure in the pharmaceutical sector is relatively low and both it and the food sector traditionally run very tight budgets.

Decisions about industrial automation are never as simple as, ‘should we invest in software or not?’ More often the question is, ‘I have a business need – how should it be addressed?’

Sometimes the answer is to produce a less capital intensive solution that can maintain the efficacy of the company’s hardware and ensure that the software platform remains stable and avoids the potential problems associated with obsolescence.

The first thing to do is assess what systems are already in place; from SCADA and supervisory control to high availability hardware and software. We then need to gauge the risk to the business if there is a problem with the existing systems and how we can mitigate for that risk.

SolutionsPT’s process is to first establish goals and a vision of what success looks like in this context. If capital expenditure is an issue, then that solution might focus on helping the customer continue production in a compliant and efficient manner, without taking them on to the next stage in terms of enhanced productivity.   

The IT culture in manufacturing in Ireland is inherently conservative, when compared with consumer and enterprise IT practices. For instance, Windows Vista was completely bypassed and XP remains the most popular operating system for industry. Furthermore, we have only recently seen demand for Windows7. In fact, we still deliver solutions using Microsoft DOS and NT, under the Microsoft OEM Embedded Systems Programme.

“Just because a system is old, it doesn’t mean it’s bad, it just means you will have to deal with the obsolescence issues,” says Aidan Finnegan, SolutionsPT’s Ireland area manager.

“One large beverage manufacturer had a technical problem on one of its kegging lines. The company identified some key operations and processes that were showing signs of becoming problems in the future. Their objective was to counter these problems and future proof the line for the next seven years.

“However, they were using quite old hardware and the software was a very old version of DOS. The application software sitting on top was a Wonderware OEM package with lots of bespoke changes.

“When we reviewed the system, the capital expenditure required to re-build it made the project seem daunting for the client. We instead changed the hardware platform and re-installed the existing software. This was done using a range of Advantech machines distributed by HardwarePT, our high availability computing division. As a result, the manufacturer now has a five nines availability system that will be secure for at least the next seven years.”

“This isn’t the only way SolutionsPT works with its partners in Ireland. We also provide support contracts, managed spares, predictive maintenance and OEE and MES solutions. However, it is one way to ensure a customer’s needs are anticipated and provided for well in advance of any problems arising. Despite this upgrade being required halfway through one of the deepest recessions we’ve seen in Ireland for a long time, some clever thinking helped the customer achieve more with less,” concludes Finnegan.


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